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Rhymes and Reasons, why Poetry is Treason

Tale as old as time, why we believe rhymes. Does the truth reside or it is a lie? From childhood to adulthood,

Apples are good for you, but that doesn’t mean that you can avoid going to the doctor altogether! (https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-apple-day-keeps-doctor-away-funny-version-proverb-motivational-inspirational-poster-representing-sayings-simple-image49903569)

we are surrounded by rhymes of all kinds. First, they were nursery rhymes and now they take the forms of aphorisms and commercial slogans. Though we might not realize it, these rhymes have the ability to affect how we perceive the world. Given the choice between “woes unite foes” or “woes unite enemies,” participants generally found the former more accurate although the two phrases have similar meanings (McGlone & Tofighbakhsh, 2000). Why is that? The answer lies in a phenomenon called the Rhyme as Reason Effect, which means that we are more likely to believe something to be true if it rhymes. Think about it, how many times have you been told “i before e except after c” or “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and thought that they were sound advice? Though these phrases are not necessarily correct, they are often repeated and believed to be true.

So how does the Rhyme as Reason Effect work and what makes rhyming so persuasive anyway? Heuristics, mental shortcuts that can help us make quick decisions and judgments, plays a big role. When this phenomenon was first studied, McGlone and Tofighbakhsh found that participants perceived aphorisms that rhymed to be more accurate than the modified non-rhyming version (“Life is mostly strife” over “Life is mostly struggle”), which demonstrates that there is bias for the rhyming aesthetic in a sentence. They also found that rhymes enhanced the fluency of statement which increased the perception of truth. Fluency is how easily something is processed; this heuristic can explain the effect because the faster and smoother something is processed, the more likely it is for us to think highly of it whether the item was logical or not. Because heuristics makes it easy for us to go for the simple answer without second-guessing our decision, we fall victim to the effect without even realizing it.


Not only are rhyming aphorisms easily processed and memorable, but they are also often repeated and passed down from generation to generation (e.g. “birds of a feather flock together”). In order to understand this a little bit more, we can refer to the cognitive processes of memory to explain why familiarity and repetition are so important. Familiarity is an automatic process that occurs when we experience something repeatedly, so when we hear rhyming aphorisms, we also unconsciously believe the statement to be true because it is familiar to us (Begg, Anas, & Farinacci, 1992). Thus, repeated exposure with these statements increases familiarity and make that information more salient, or accessible, to our minds. Furthermore, if something is repeated enough times, it is more likely to be seen as a true statement; this is another cognitive bias called the illusory truth effect.


It is more difficult for us to realize when we experience the Rhyme as Reason Effect because we grew up listening and reading nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Whether it is “Twinkle, twinkle, little star…”, “Green eggs and ham… Sam-I-am”, or “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…” we really have seen it all! With all that practice, we are experts at detecting rhymes. Now how exactly does “The Cat in the Hat” affect our perceptions and how we learn, you may wonder. Well, as we read more rhymes, we begin to develop more associations between what words rhyme, which develop our expectations for phrases that rhyme. A study by Sheingold and Foundas found that children were able to put the story in order better if it rhymed because the rhyming words provided cues that helped with the retrieval (to access memory for what was read) process. These rhyming cues provided context and phonological (audible) structures that were present at the encoding (processing) stage of memory, which served as a retrieval cue for the children.

Better “Beanz Meanz Heinz” than “Kids full of beans.” This slogan has lasted over 40 years and continues to be a popular advertisement jingle. http://tropicalsundesign.com/beanz-meanz-heinz/

Because we are constantly exposed to rhymes growing up, familiarity with words and phrases that rhyme also increase, and the recognition of a phrase that rhyme is automatic. This makes us more vulnerable to catchy catchphrases and commercials that use rhymes to their advantage. In an age of commerce and technology, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements everywhere we go. As familiarity increases, so does affinity (as shown in the mere exposure effect) and advertisers are definitely using rhymes to their advantage. A study on how the Rhyme as Reasons Effect is used in commercials found that rhyming statements were more popular and easier to remember than non-rhyming statements, but the quality of the rhymes was also important as better rhymes were considered more trustworthy (Filkuková & Klempe, 2013). This study demonstrates the application of this effect on a day-to-day basis and further emphasizes how prevalent “aesthetic” is in our life as well as its effects on our choice and perception.

Now that we understand what the Rhyme as Reason Effect is and how it works, is there any way to not fall prey to rhymes? Fear not, fret not! Once you are aware of this bias for rhymes, you are less likely to believe in rhyming statements. Another way to avoid this rhyming curse is to put the phrase in your own words and judge its context in order to see if it holds true or not. Additionally, as discussed by Filkuková & Klempe, the context and content of the phrase matters, so you might not even fall prey to the effect if it was something like “This is not cool, fool” because it is not a good rhyme and is incorrect (I’m sure you’re a wonderful person).

To conclude, the Rhyme as Reason Effect is a cognitive bias where we evaluate how true a statement is based on its aesthetic quality, and how easily it is processed by the brain. Often time, this effect occurs automatically because rhymes are easily remembered and repeated, thus allows us to recognize and expect rhymes. Just because something sounds catchy doesn’t mean that it is true.


Begg, I. M., Anas, A., & Farinacci, S. (1992). Dissociation of processes in belief: Source recollection, statement familiarity, and the illusion of truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General121(4), 446. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0096-3445.121.4.446

Filkuková, P., & Klempe, S. H. (2013). Rhyme as reason in commercial and social advertising. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology54(5), 423–431. https://doi.org/10.1111/sjop.12069

Markman, A. (2008). To know me is to like me I: Mere exposure. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ulterior-motives/200811/know-me-is-me-i-mere-exposure.

McGlone, M. S., & Tofighbakhsh, J. (2000). Birds of a feather flock conjointly (?): Rhyme as Reason in aphorisms. Psychological Science11(5), 424–428. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.00282

Sheingold, K., & Foundas, A. (1978). Rhymes for some reasons: Effect of Rhyme on Children’s Memory for Detail and Sequence in Simple Narratives. Psychological Reports43(3_suppl), 1231–1234. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1978.43.3f.1231

Unkelbach, C. (2007). Reversing the truth effect: Learning the interpretation of processing fluency in judgments of truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(1), 219-230.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0278-7393.33.1.219

Yue, C. (n.d.). Retrieval cues. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/science/health-and-medicine/executive-systems-of-the-brain/memory-lesson/v/retrieval-cues.


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  1. December 6th, 2019 at 09:54 | #1

    Hi Nhi! This post was very interesting and enjoyable to read as I could relate to the fact that things that are so familiar to our lives are rarely questioned. I found it particularly interesting to see how the perceptual characteristics of rhyming could divert our attention away from meaning-based characteristics of the sentence. For me, rhyming can be especially helpful in storing information in my long-term memory, but sometimes I don’t actually know what the rhyme actual means! I think this post has definitely called my attention to critically assessing statements or aspects of my life that have just always been the case.

  2. December 10th, 2019 at 11:34 | #2

    Nhi, your post really helped me realize how predisposed our minds are to recognizing rhyme schemes. This may be why we’re so much better at memorizing song lyrics than an equation for our statistics exam. Your analysis of how our minds more easily recognize perceptual based characteristics before meaning-based characteristics reminds me of the Dual Task Paradigm where we learned that it takes more attentional resources to focus of meaning based characteristics. This makes sense as to why we would be able to remember rhymes so easily; since they capture our attention.

  3. December 13th, 2019 at 16:25 | #3

    @Lisa Enaye
    Thank you, Lisa! You’re absolutely right about the Dual Task Paradigm; I didn’t even think of that as I was writing this blog. Rhyming definitely takes less attentional control compared to other semantic-based information because we are so familiar with rhymes that we can just breeze through reading it.

  4. Varun Boopathi
    December 16th, 2019 at 19:16 | #4

    I really enjoyed this post and your writing style in this blog post! I found it very interesting how advertisements in specific make use of different rhyming schemes in order to make customers remember their product. I never noticed it when looking at advertisements, but there’s a reason why rhyming slogans are easy to remember and recite. The analysis of perceptual characteristics drawing attention rather than having to use attention resources to understand semantic characteristics was also interesting. It does make sense to have a catchy rhyme as a slogan rather than a boring – but more meaningful sentence!

  5. December 17th, 2019 at 01:43 | #5

    Hi Nhi!
    I found your post very interesting because it explained to me the reasoning of why I have always been able to remember information in the context of rhymes and songs much better than I have ever been able to remember information by itself. As you explained, the rhyme and reason effect allows for mental heuristics, easy retrieval and transfer to long term memory much more quickly than information without a clear pattern. This definitely relates to how often I find myself thinking about an advertisement jingle because of how catchy it is without even thinking about it, or even an old rhyme or song I created for myself when I was studying. I will keep my remembrance of patterns and stories when studying for tests or quizzes because the information is much easier to remember if it is in a pattern.

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